Longtime transit activist Clay Chastain was the catalyst behind two questions on Kansas City’s Nov. 4 ballot, but even he isn’t pushing for their approval.
Question 1 asks whether voters support a quarter-cent sales tax increase for 25 years for capital improvements. Question 2 seeks approval for an eighth-cent sales tax increase for 25 years for public transportation. There’s no specific purpose for the money.
This is all the result of a convoluted, three-year battle by Chastain to garner support for a massive light-rail plan.
The city fought his initiative petition effort every step of the way, and the end result was something that even Chastain doesn’t support.
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Back in 2011, Chastain — who lives in Virginia — launched another in a series of his petition-gathering crusades that date to the mid-1990s.
This time, he gathered more than 4,000 signatures seeking support for a sales tax increase totaling three-eighths-cent to help pay for a 22-mile light-rail system, a 19-mile commuter line and an 81/2-mile streetcar line.
The City Council refused to put the measure on the ballot, saying Chastain’s tax increase would not raise nearly enough money to build the system.
The dispute landed in court, with Jackson County Circuit Judge Sandra Midkiff and the Missouri Court of Appeals siding with the city. Then the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in February that the city had to put Chastain’s proposed tax increases on the ballot — but not his plan for spending the money.
Essentially, the court said Midkiff erred when she declared the proposed ballot language unconstitutional for violating a provision that bars initiative petitions from appropriating money. The high court found the proposed language did not allocate money, merely raised the money, so it wasn’t unconstitutional.
The court sent the case back to Midkiff, who ordered Kansas City to put the taxes before voters in November.
Chastain has argued the city should act in good faith and state the intended purpose on the ballot, with the money going for light rail. But the City Council said the ballot complies with the Supreme Court ruling.
Council members are not campaigning for these questions because they don’t want citizens to think they support them. Chastain initially said he would campaign hard for passage but then reversed course and said voter approval would simply give the city a blank check.
“It would not be wise nor right to ask the voters of Kansas City to vote for such a dark election scheme, hoping we could straighten it all out after the vote,” Chastain said in a statement.
Council members said this is what happens when people sign petitions for ill-conceived plans.
“People signed the petition not knowing what it was all about,” said Councilman Dick Davis, a longtime bus and rail transit supporter.
“Whatever we do regarding light rail and the streetcar should be decided by a legislative body. It shouldn’t be decided by a gentleman that stands in front of a grocery store gathering petition signatures.”